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Second choice

August 27, 2016

“Mama? Can’t you play with me for just one minute?

Mama? Can you read me a book before you go to work?

Mama?”

Mama’s not here, my husband must answer. She went to work early. 

I’ve missed doctor’s appointments. I’ve not been the one to soothe his hot forehead with kisses. Haven’t been able to sit around and watch movies on sick days. 

I must pass on being one of the parents to accompany the class to the science museum, and I didn’t bring the birthday cupcakes to school and watch as his friends sang “Happy Birthday.”

I’ve had to leave while he’s crying and begging me to stay. Torn myself out of his tight little grip while I find a quiet place to take a conference call. I’ve explained how his father will take him to school and that no, honey, sorry I won’t be able to walk you home from school tomorrow.

It’s heart wrenching every time. But I don’t want or expect pity. Not even empathy. Out of necessity and want, I choose to be a working mother. Sometimes it hurts. Other times it’s OK. And no, we can’t have it all. No one can. 

In this day and age of stay-at-home dads and true shared responsibilities of both parents, some working dads feel the same pangs of not being able to be there for everything. 

It’s valuable to remember that kids don’t need us to be there for every single thing. It strengthens bonds with both parents to have one-on-one time with children. And I love hearing the pride or excitement in my son’s voice when he talks about something special he did only with his tata. 

I know he acts differently when I’m not around, and I want him to have experiences with his friends and teachers that don’t involve me. He’ll learn so much. 

I read about the struggles of working mothers. I do that because I want to know I’m not alone. I want to learn how others cope. How they manage their time, their conflicting demands for time. 

And yes, there are benefits of being a working mom. The upsides are also well covered, and I don’t have much to add to that conversation besides empathy, me-toos and my own stories of career development.

Among the talk about the missed  recitals, school pickups and field trips, there are other big adjustments and allowances in the times we are together. 

I am often second choice.

“Mama? Tata needs to put the band aid on me. You don’t know how. 

Mama? I have to ask tata if I can do this. He makes the rules.”

I sometimes must accept my son thinking I can’t do something or help him in some way because he thinks I don’t know how.

I sometimes must accept that he believes mama’s rules aren’t as serious or important. They don’t need heeding all the time because I’m not around. 

We talk about it together. We explain things as a couple. In sync. Mama’s rules are as important. Mama knows how to turn on that game or find that toy. 

Things will shift. And again. He’s nearly 5, and the only constant in raising a child, I’ve discovered, is that it’s always, always changing. 

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